Bipolar Disorder Research App Wins Mood Challenge Grand Prize

Award will further ResearchKit app development and support study launch.

    • May 16, 2017
A boy sitting on a wall, wearing a skateboard helmet and using a hand held device.

Princeton, N.J.—Today the Mood Challenge for ResearchKit announced that the winner of its $200,000 grand prize is BiAffect, a new study for understanding mood and neurocognitive functioning in bipolar disorder.

The Challenge is a New Venture Fund program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and powered by Luminary Labs. It launched in April 2016 with a $500,000 prize purse, calling upon researchers and technologists to submit proposals for ResearchKit studies that will further our understanding of mood and how it relates to daily life.

“This program will help advance mood research in the United States,” said Paul Tarini, RWJF senior program officer. “The participating studies are showing how platforms like ResearchKit can transform health research, and we’re excited to see BiAffect’s novel work in bipolar disorder research.”

BiAffect and four other teams were recommended by a panel of judges to participate as semi-finalists in the Virtual Accelerator. Each team received $20,000 and expert mentorship as they iterated their designs through participation in a 2-day Boot Camp. BiAffect and Aware Study advanced as co-finalists to the Finalist Testing and Incubation phase of the Challenge. They each received an additional $100,000 to develop their ResearchKit designs into prototypes and pilot with users. As the Challenge winner, BiAffect will be awarded the $200,000 grand prize to further develop the app and launch the study in the App Store.

BiAffect uses keystroke dynamics such as typing speed and errors and other passive data sources to track and predict mood episodes. Diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder currently relies on careful examination by a physician, aided by self-report or caretaker-informed questionnaires. Using these methods to predict an imminent change in mood is often not straightforward. BiAffect seeks to improve this process by uncovering virtual biomarkers in the mental health footprints of people living with bipolar disorder. It will do so by unobtrusively studying nonverbal communications on iPhone alongside additional survey and passive data collected through the app.

“In essence, the vision of BiAffect is a pioneering platform that will serve as a “fitness tracker” of the brain. The Mood Challenge has helped us realize this vision, with the ultimate goal of addressing the needs of a population that is often tech-savvy but currently poorly served by existing mHealth tools,” said BiAffect team lead Alex Leow, MD, PhD, associate professor of Psychiatry and Bioengineering at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

ResearchKit, an open source software framework designed by Apple, turns iPhone into a powerful tool for medical research by helping doctors, scientists, and other researchers gather data more frequently and more accurately from participants anywhere in the world. iPhone, through the use of ResearchKit, provides an unprecedented opportunity to investigate mood through the collection of active and passive data.

To learn more about the Mood Challenge for ResearchKit, visit Follow the Challenge on Twitter @MoodChallenge or #MoodChallenge, or on Facebook at


About New Venture Fund

The New Venture Fund, a 501(c)(3) established in 2006, conducts public interest projects and provides professional insight and support to institutions and individuals seeking to foster change through strategic philanthropy. It helps donors and social entrepreneurs launch new projects quickly and effectively, collaborate efficiently, and develop high-impact grant-making programs. NVF offers domestic and international grant-making support, executes donor-developed projects, and provides full fiscal sponsorship, including grants and contracts management for innovative public-interest projects. To date, it has run close to 300 domestic and international projects across a range of issues, including global health and development, conservation, education, civic engagement, women’s empowerment, disaster recovery, and music and the arts.


About Luminary Labs

Luminary Labs is a consultancy that develops strategies and innovation systems for leaders who seek to adapt their organizations to the technological, economic, political, and social norms of the 21st century. For more information visit


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at

Media Contacts

Melissa Blair

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-5937